13 -1960s Small Town GA Weddings, Revivals, and Funerals
I wanted to annotate a few customs associated with the above-mentioned events, as I observed them from the perspective of an 11 year old sixth grader in the ‘60s. Many of these traditions likely have not changed very much even over the course of 50 years. My remarks are based on my diary from that 1964 year. I’ll have to wait for feedback from some of the local town folk to confirm or negate those assumptions.
A wedding represented a fairy tale world to me at age 11. The bride typically dressed in a beautiful white or ivory gown with long flowing veil and the groom in a traditional black or blue suit, occasionally a tux. One of my neighbors who was an older teen (probably 18 or 19) got married that spring of 1964. She walked down the aisle with her father and the preacher performed a very traditional ceremony. He read all the vows for both the bride and groom; they would repeat the words that he requested and say the “I do.”
A wedding I attended in the springtime of 1964 influenced a decision much later in my life to have my own wedding in the fairytale setting of Callaway Gardens.
Oh, yes, another decided distinction between then and now: most girls were encouraged and expected to be married early. Weddings right after high school were not uncommon. If a young woman was still unmarried at age 23 or 24, folks wondered if marriage would ever be in the cards.
I do not recall the bride and groom from that era who actually wrote their own vows, although I imagine some did. Most words spoken during the ceremony came directly the minister who took his inspiration directly from Bible verses. After a church wedding, usually a reception took place in the annex of the church or in the adjoining fellowship hall. The several weddings I went to over the course of a couple years always offered light snacks, along with punch and, of course, the wedding cake.
In our small town, I don’t recall any sit-down dinner with a band or a lot of extra expense. Perhaps, more merry making and a more elaborate venue occurred from time to time depending on the family’s economic stance, but things still seemed elegant and fairytale like while remaining simple.
Not only were local churches kept lively with weddings during the springtime, both the local Methodist and Baptist churches also held annual revivals. I remember that a ‘visiting’ revival preacher and his family usually stayed in town for a week. He would lead nightly services. Volunteers from the congregations would host him and his family for the evening meal before the nightly services. Those services were much more animated than weekly church services. The songs and the messages always carried an air of excitement, emotion, and intrigue. Often one might see town folk at revival services who might not regularly attend church services at other times of the year.
Funerals certainly carried a different set of traditions depending on the given religions represented within a community. In our little town, we had mainly protestant congregations. There were a few other traditions represented. One Jewish family lived in town a few years and there were several Catholic families, too. They found more support structure for their faith in larger communities, perhaps in nearby Americus or Columbus.
I remember such an outpouring of love and support from all community members regardless of religious affiliation, whenever a community member died. One of the most memorable traditions was the custom for everyone to bring food to the family who had lost someone. Folks would prepare casseroles, main entree dishes, desserts, beverages, breads, and such a variety of side dishes. Any bereaved family rarely had to concern itself with food preparation.
Also, neighbors came, visited, talked, and consoled one another. Often a family would have the deceased actually in a casket in the family living room or den. Folks could stop by to pay their respects and sit close by with family members and offer support. Food was in abundance thanks to generous neighbors.
On the day of the actual funeral, the church would fill with many town folk showing support and counsel for one another. The custom of that era was that most people would send flowers and thereby a small church might be overflowing with beautiful flowers to commemorate a life. A minister would typically read from the Bible and offer a story or two about the deceased. I do not remember it being a common practice back then for family members to share special memories or stories concerning their loved one. The funeral ceremony seemed a bit more formal than we might expect nowadays. Never do I recall this memorial ever referred to as a celebration of life, as is more common today. I remember after the church service that one would expect a graveside service where those who attended the formal service would follow a hearse to the cemetery and reverently say good-bye as the deceased was laid to rest.
One very special feeling of being from a small town was the feeling of having extended family close by. At all events in life, from beginnings to endings, people from all over town came together in support one another.